Essex Column

Land tax bills arrived last week, and it may be possible to make four installment payments rather than pay in one lump sum. Call or visit Town Clerk Audrey Hoskins for details; you need to set this up before the end of January.

Winter took its sweet time getting started this year, but with last week’s heavy snowstorms the season is well under way. The deep blanket of snow keeps water lines from freezing, and is also thought to reduce the incidence of disease. Although I doubt it’s more than coincidence, an open winter is regarded as an unhealthy winter. Yesterday the sun finally came out and we were treated to a fine display of lenticular clouds. These form as winds blowing over mountains are forced upward and squeeze out moisture, creating multi-layered, roundish clouds that often look like flying saucers. You could see them over the Jay Range and the Green Mountains, especially over lofty Mount Mansfield.

Great horned owls are starting to nest now, with young expected at the end of this month or early in February. This is our largest year round owl, with up to a five foot wing span and talons capable of exerting 300 psi of crushing power. Like a lot of hawks, female owls are larger than the males. I seldom see them, but in the evening you can hear them calling “hoo hoo, hoo hoo.” With their large and powerful feet, great horned owls are lethal hunters, one of only a few animals that will take skunks. They are also predators of crows, which are especially vulnerable when they’re roosting at night. Young owls make loud hissing sounds, as well as a flat out screams. This spring, if you hear a terrified human late at night high up in a tree, it’s probably just a juvenile owl. Ravens are also starting to put on breeding displays, performing wild dives and loop the loops. Unlike owls, which use other birds’ nests, ravens build their own, usually in a tall white pine and with dead pine branches they break off the standing tree. If they should drop a branch, they ignore it and move on to the next branch, as if the dropped branch might bring bad luck.

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